Counties Address Joint Transparency Committee

During the November 6 meeting of the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, MACo coordinated a panel offering a local perspective on responding to Public Information Requests, citing broad county compliance with Maryland laws, and a system that generally accommodates the vast majority of public requests.

MACo prepared and submitted, at the Committee’s request, a summary of county ordinances and practices to implement the Public Information Act. From that written summary, MACo offered a broad observation about local compliance and flexibility:

MACo and the responding counties believe that the current PIA fee structure is adequate and reasonable. County fees reflect the labor, time, and material costs of the county in meeting a PIA request and serve to limit overly broad or abusive information requests. While State law does not provide for a formal appeal process, all counties are willing to work with requestors to better refine their searches in order to reduce the fees or consider waiving the fees in the public interest.

Offering comments at the public hearing were MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson, Baltimore City Assistant City Solicitor Hillary Ruley, Caroline County Attorney Heather Price, and Howard County Solicitor Margaret Ann Nolan. Each offered perspective on local implementation of the state law’s requirements, and each of the local attorneys offered insight or reflections on the challenges arising from technically complicated or broadly-defined information requests.

The full contents of the meeting can be viewed or heard online via the Maryland General Assembly website (a separate media player may be required to view the streaming media).

Mr. Sanderson also mentioned the upcoming Winter Conference, where one of the schedule breakout sessions for the event is an organizational meeting of an Open Government Workgroup to further county exchange of best practices. Registration remains open for the December 11-13 conference, at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Dorchester County.

The Joint Committee also heard comments from the Office of the Attorney General and two state agencies (Transportation and the Environment) on their internal practices dealing with PIA requests, particularly those that are complex or difficult to fulfill. The presiding Co-Chair of the meeting, Senator Ferguson, indicated that the Committee would likely reconvene again early during the 2014 session to take up additional issues.

Read MACo’s summary of county laws and practices on PIA compliance, submitted November 6, 2013.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties